Bits and Pieces: The Most Significant Blackjack Books Ever . March 2002

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Bits and Pieces: The Most Significant Blackjack Books Ever

by Howard Schwartz

The following article appeared, in part, in Blackjack Confidential.

Anytime any writer sets out to do an article or review that picks the most important, most valuable, or most significant books on
any subject, especially gambling, there's bound to be controversy. It's risky business because everyone is opinionated -- and egos are involved. Few agree, but what the heck, let's take a look. The key words are the best books now in print.

Keep in mind, these books are not in ranking order.

Beat the Dealer by Ed Thorp. Published 30-some years ago, this is still vibrant and worth reading. This $11 paperbound (220 pages) made the game what it is today, caused casinos to change rules, and created thousands of players and counters. That's quite a feat for a single effort. In addition, the work contains some fascinating chapters, including System Smitty; the "Little Dark Haired Guy" (the late Jess Marcum), and 80 great early reference sources about blackjack and gambling research. Thorp's earliest adventures in attacking 21 and his camouflage techniques and casino counter-measures are unparalleled. Unbelievably, some of this generation's counters have never read this book! Whether it's ignorance or the book is beyond them is questionable, but it's a must read for the intelligent player.

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Casino Tournament Strategy by Stanford Wong. Originally published in 1992 and revised and updated as recently as 1997,
this 352-page paperbound ($29.95) once sold for $100 for each of the two volumes (one for 21, the other for craps). Now available to the masses, this book also includes sections on baccarat, keno and thoroughbred racing. The first 212 pages are keyed to 21 and craps. Tournaments are quite lucrative options to seasoned, disciplined payers who know the importance of money management, surviving early-round play and watching opponents' chip piles. Wong was among the few writer-players who made inside information available for the first time and helped popularize tournament participation. Anyone entering a tournament for the first time should read this classic, landmark work.

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Playing Blackjack as a Business by Lawrence Revere. Published 30 years ago, this 179-page paperbound ($15.95)
remains a must-read standard even today, although the book was originally slanted to the one-deck game. The color charts, advice, stories and point-count strategy are highly respected even today. One tribute to the book is that 21 dealers in Las Vegas who see some players virtually tossing their money away with no strategy at all are apt to whisper advice to these poor souls, advice like: "Listen buddy, give yourself a chance, some chance. Get a copy of Revere's Playing Blackjack as a Business, and come back later when you've read it." Interestingly, the great Julian Braun, who did the computer work for Thorp's classic, did similar research for Revere, who was also known as Spec Parsons. Revere passed on in 1978 but it's likely this book will remain a good starting point and historical piece for the ages.

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The Theory of Blackjack by Peter Griffin. Published originally in 1979 by GBC Press, it was respected immediately as the most advanced book ever written on the game. Now in its 5th edition, last revised in 1996, this 262-page paperbound ($11.95) is now indexed by subject and has a separate index for its valuable charts and tables. A former mathematics instructor at California State at Sacramento, Griffin, a brilliant yet mirthful individual, was like a walking computer. He didn't have the "killer instinct" at the tables as Ken Uston did, and was far from flamboyant, but when he spoke, wrote or advised, there was quiet in the room. That attitude translated into this work very well. His book also contains a seven-page section on beating the game of baccarat, which might be worth the price of the book alone.

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Million Dollar Blackjack by Ken Uston. Originally published in 1981, this is now in its fifth printing. The 327-page paperbound ($18.95) stimulated another generation of Young Turk-type players to the challenge of the game. Uston had advice on forming teams, disguising play and cultivating dealers. He offered money-management advice, explained front-loading and spooking like never before. And he exposed dealer cheating tactics and actually sought a fair solution to the counter's problem of getting barred if he got too good and was detected. His chapters on how his teams won millions troubled casino management and caused salivation among aspiring team members. The book continues to sell and remains a solid staple among those books to be added to any library.

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Card Counting for the Casino Executive by Bill Zender. Published in 1990, this 138-page plastic spiralbound ($19.95) might have saved many a casino supervisor or mid-management person their job -- or helped train thousands of others properly. Until Zender's guide was published, casinos were, in many cases, barring the wrong individuals -- many of them innocent and puzzled. Floormen were giving the heave-ho or 86ing poor souls who happened to get lucky, were on a streak or just seemed to win instinctively using their home-made counts. Losing valuable customers and potential high rollers was moronic. Zender helped eliminate those terrible decisions (although you'd be surprised how many management personnel are still unaware of what counting systems exist and how difficult they are to apply and detect properly). Zender, former casino manager at the now-imploded Aladdin, is one of the most respected young management people in the business -- sometimes feared, occasionally disliked, but fair in who he has allowed to play. He tells management why the game wins for the house, why it's important for the house to know basic strategy and the basics of card counting. He discusses counter-measures and barring (and the legalities). Granted, this might be the most controversial of all the books I've listed, but to be fair, it must be included, since it affects all players and all management who believe in fairness, intelligent decision-making procedures and the need to be knowledgeable in a major industry.

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Professional Blackjack by Stanford Wong. Published in 1975 originally by GBC Press, it is now in its third printing and was last revised in 1994. This 352-page paperbound ($19.95) remains this reviewer's personal favorite because it is highly readable and covers vital territory for both beginner and hard core, dedicated counter. Wong, whose real name is John Ferguson writes with simplicity but he writes as both dedicated player, writer and theorist. He also covers no-hole card blackjack, surrender, variations of the bonuses for more than 5 card hands, and shuffles. His charts and tables are among the most valuable ever for the aspiring counter. Players looking for an edge in the game should read everything Wong produces, in the way of a book or computer software.

(The books mentioned here are available from Gambler's Book Shop, 630 South 11th Street, Las Vegas, NV 89101. Call l-800-522-1777 from 9 to 5 Monday through Saturday Pacific time to order, using only MasterCard, VISA or Discover card (no Amex accepted). You may order through the store web site at and view the store's 1,000 books, videos and computer software. You may also call or write and ask for the free 80-page catalog to be sent to you. The store, founded in 1964, is located about two miles from Downtown Las Vegas, and the same distance from where the Strip begins, a block west of Maryland Parkway, just off Charleston Boulevard.)